Review of G. Knoppers and B.M Levinson, The Pentateuch as Torah

Journal of Hebrew Scriptures - Volume 9 (2009) - Review

Gary N. Knoppers and Bernard M. Levinson (eds), The Pentateuch as Torah: New Models for Understanding Its Promulgation and Acceptance (Winona Lake, IN: Eisenbrauns, 2007). Pp. xvi + 352. Hardcover, US$49.50. ISBN 978-1-57506-140-5.

The articles collected in this volume originated in four panels on biblical and ancient Near Eastern law convened during the 2006 International Meeting of the Society of Biblical Literature in Edinburgh. The panels investigated “the promulgation and acceptance of the Pentateuch as a prestigious writing in the late Persian and early Hellenistic periods” (p. 1). However, the editors correctly note that the collection of articles goes well beyond conventional conference proceedings. All the articles were extensively revised, often repeatedly, in a thorough peer review process involving referees and the editors. While the editors offer thanks and apologies for the work they imposed on the authors, they need make no apologies to the readers of the final volume. The extensive review process shows in the consistently high quality of the work included. The editors wanted the work to be accessible to readers outside the specialized disciplines of the authors. Consequently, they pushed authors to address issues beyond their specializations in order to address the larger questions of the collected works, and required all quotations from foreign languages to be translated into English. The volume includes indices of modern authors, Scripture, and other ancient sources.

The editor's introduction “How, When, Where, and Why Did the Pentateuch Become the Torah?” (pp. 1-19) by Gary N. Knoppers and Bernard M. Levinson explains the background of the volume and provides a summary of the articles included. The authors also articulate nine areas of investigation that inform the volume. Briefly stated, these are: (1) How does one account for the composition of the Pentateuch as a heterogeneous work consisting of multiple legal and narrative strands? (2) Was the Pentateuch originally promulgated within the Judean elite, perhaps in connection with the Temple? (3) Was there a societal negotiation about which laws and documents would become normative for the community? (4) Was the rise of the Pentateuch related to the rise or demise of other writing (e.g., a Hexateuch)? (5) What was the role of the Diaspora in the development of the Pentateuch? (6) How might one explain why the Samaritan Pentateuch is nearly identical to the MT? (7) When and how did the Pentateuch become legally binding? (8) Was there an external stimulus for the Pentateuch, such as a Persian imperial authorization (Reichsautorisation)? (9) Does the interpretation of the Pentateuch in the centuries after its promulgation provide insights into the composition of the work? Each essay in the volume addresses one or more of these questions.

The first section of the collection, entitled “Ratifying Local Law Codes in an International Age,” immediately begins with “The Persian Imperial Authorization as a Historical Problem and as a Biblical Construct: A Plea for Distinctions in the Current Debate” (pp.23-38), in which Konrad Schmid clarifies the hypothesis based on interviews with Peter Frei and a close reading of Frei's work to argue that it can not be reduced and dismissed as some critics imagine. David Carr describes ancient Near Eastern scribal practices and social context and maintains that Torah replaced royal hymns and wisdom as the core text of elite literary education in a process ranging from pre-exilic to Persian times in “The Rise of Torah” (pp. 39-56). In “Local Law in an Imperial Context: The Role of Torah in the (Imagined) Persian Period” (pp. 57-76) Anselm C. Hagedorn uses post-colonial perspectives on legal anthropology and social theory to contend that the Pentateuch was a product of local elites operating within an imperial context to maintain local order and avoid conflict with the Persian Empire. Richard G. Kratz employs evidence from Elephantine and Qumran to claim that the development of the Pentateuch must be understood in late Persian, Hasmonean, and Hellenistic contexts in “Temple and Torah: Reflections on the Legal Status of the Pentateuch between Elephantine and Qumran” (pp. 77-103). Gary N. Knoppers and Paul B. Harvey, Jr. draw on the wider context of the Mediterranean (using Greek and Latin examples) to discover various factors contributing to the rise of local law codes in an international setting in “The Pentateuch in Ancient Mediterranean Context: The Publication of Local Lawcodes” (pp. 105-41).

The second section, “Prophets, Polemics, and Publishers: The Growing Importance of Writing in Persian Period Yehud,” consists of articles concerning how the formation of the Pentateuch relates to its acceptance. In “From History Writing to Library Building: The End of History and the Birth of the Book,” Jean-Louis Ska explores recent scholarship on writing and orality and links the birth of Torah with the development of an antiquarian scribal culture and a library in the Second Temple. Eckart Otto makes a complex argument that the Pentateuch is the result of a late scribal effort to reconcile Priestly and Deuteronomistic literature by employing scribal techniques that would continue to inform rabbinic interpretive practice in “Scribal Scholarship in the Formation of Torah and Prophets: A Postexilic Debate between Priestly Scholarship and Literary Prophecy—The Example of the Book of Jeremiah and Its Relation to the Pentateuch” (pp. 171-84).

The third section, “The Torah as a Foundational Document in Judah and Samaria,” includes the essays that directly discuss the Samaritan Pentateuch for the light it sheds on the development of Torah. In “The Torah between Samaria and Jerusalem: Shechem and Gerizim in Deuteronomy and Joshua” (pp. 187-223), Christophe Nihan analyzes several texts involving a covenant ceremony at Shechem and asserts that these texts evince a Judean authorship, but were written to be accepted by both Jews and Samaritans (later textual changes were part of a Judean polemic). Joachim Schaper focuses on Judah and analyzes the verb באר (Deut 1:5; 27:3, 8; Hab 2:2) in an ancient Near Eastern context to understand how law was promulgated in ancient Judah in “The ‘Publication’ of Legal Texts in Ancient Judah” (pp.225-36). In “The Samaritans and Their Pentateuch” (pp. 237-59), Reinhard Plummer provides readers with a comprehensive and judicious survey of Samaritan studies, including the emergence of the Samaritan community and their version of the Pentateuch.

The fourth section, “The Translation, Interpretation, and Application of the Torah in Early Jewish Literature,” concerns the early reception of the Pentateuch. Sebastian Grätz holds that the authors of Ruth and Ezra knew the Torah and made opposite arguments, employing different methods, concerning intermarriage, which implies a lack of consensus about the status of Torah in the (early) Second Temple period. In “The Septuagint of the Pentateuch and Ptolemaic Rule” (pp. 289-300), Arie van der Kooij associates the Septuagint translation with priests and scribes from Jerusalem rather than the Diaspora community in Alexandria. Sidnie White Crawford examines the interpretation of the Pentateuch at Qumran, which points to a continuous tradition of Torah interpretation in the Second Temple period in “The Use of the Pentateuch in the Temple Scroll and the Damascus Document in the Second Temple B.C.E.” (pp. 301-17). In “The Torah as the Rhetoric of Priesthood” (pp. 319-31), James W. Watts reevaluates the rule of the Aaronide priests from the 5th to 2nd centuries as largely successful and accommodating rather than separatist or confrontational.

Most scholars will find Part I of this collection the most valuable section because of its focus on the central issue of how, when, and why the Pentateuch emerged. The first three contributions (by Schmid, Carr, and Hagedorn) are particularly interesting for the nuance each brings to discussion of the Reichsautorisation theory. As Schmid points out, many critics of the theory have focused their attacks on a “straw man,” and the theory always admitted of much more sophistication than critics allowed. Although the three essays do not dialogue with one another (for example, Hagedorn does not see himself as contributing to a the Reichsautorisation theory because, like those criticized by Schmid, he reduces it to the idea that the Persian Empire pressured Jews to develop the Torah), they cohere well as mutually illuminating perspectives on the role of the Persian Empire in the development of Torah by local elites. Carr's emphasis on scribal education and Hagedorn's focus on comparative anthropology each develop specific aspects of Schmid's more general discussion. Kratz, meanwhile, places the emergence of the Pentateuch in Hasmonean and Hellenistic times. He notes that the Torah appears unknown to the Elephantine writings, but this potentially significant point is not reflected or critiqued elsewhere in the volume. The description of classical law codes by Knoppers and Harvey is interesting, but not clearly relevant because the question of why and how they arose is as mysterious as the case of Pentateuch. Comparative data is certainly desirable, but not especially helpful if we are as ignorant about the comparative data as the primary data. The other parts of the volume concern various related topics (such as scribal culture and Samaritan studies) that will be of interest to some readers, but relatively peripheral to others.

David A. Bosworth, The Catholic University of America